Now, as we covered the second and third things in the last article, we look at the fourth and final thing that gets left behind and lost when we embrace the Covenant:
- The inertia of thousands of years of belief and tradition.
The Covenant is in many ways the opposite of what we humans have been doing for thousands of years. It tell us that there are two halves to life – the secular facts and our spiritual convictions, and makes it our job to make sure that each kind stays on it’s own side. All statements of fact must be handled according to secular ways, in other words, by Reason alone. However, all our spiritual convictions, so long as they do not express statements of fact, can be freely embraced.
In contrast, for the past several millenia humanity has been blurring the line between fact and belief willy-nilly. Even today few stop to recognize that facts aren’t matters of opinion and plow right ahead embracing the wildest irrational beliefs, with no regard for reality’s own truth at all. Many seem to feel that if you believe in something strongly enough, want something badly enough, you don’t have to pay attention to stuff like evidence, proof, or justification. It is this willful ignorance and immature behavior that is thrown right back in our faces when reality reminds us time after time that when it comes to truth, reality always wins, and if we turn a blind eye, we lose.
But humankind has ever been willing to embrace utter irrationality in the service of some shortsighted goal or emotional craving. Many of us, myself included, have trouble always turning away from the spoiled child within to instead deal with the world as an adult. And since this has been going on since humankind invented religion and long before, it doesn’t seem crazy to us now – it seems normal. Conventional. Traditional.
It’s a gigantic and not particularly safe universe, and we grasp for any safety and reliability we can get. How reassuring it is for us to fall into the arms of institutions that our parents belonged to, and their parents before them, and so on. Although there is a natural human tendency towards progress and building a better future, there is also an equally natural and human tendency that opposes change and seeks refuge in “authority” and convention. Our rituals and practices change a little through the years, but it’s the traditions passed from one generation to the next that give us a feeling of constancy, and reassures us.
Perhaps if the Covenant had been invented two thousand years ago and been embraced by masses of people who wrote about it, extended it, developed rituals around it, and so on, by now it would be as comfortable as all the other elder religious institutions. Unfortunately, it was not – although if we are particularly optimistic we can certainly hope that what we do now can build a future where five hundred years from now or more the Covenant becomes such a tradition.
But for now, it isn’t. It isn’t the faith of anyone’s fathers and mothers (that I know) and it doesn’t (yet) have the attention of millions of people, let alone billions. The only one writing about it (that I am aware of) is me.
So it doesn’t deliver that warm and comfy feeling that the other time-worn belief structures do. And embracing the Covenant means at the very least modernizing one’s traditional beliefs significantly, if not replacing them entirely. For someone growing up in a religious community, embracing something much newer loses a lot of heritage and cultural history that goes way back. It takes a lot of courage to step away from the “truths” one has been raised with, and bravely invent one’s own truths. One simply cannot embrace the progress of the Covenant while gripping tightly the dogma of the past.
Giving up that context, which may as invisible as the air we breath as yet may also seem just as vital, is hard. Despite being justified by what the Covenant gives us, losing thousands of years of traditions is no small thing.
So there we have it. Embracing the Covenant is hard because it takes from us four things – things perhaps that actually harm us more than they help us in the long run, but that also are part of the fabric of our lives, that we allow ourselves to depend on, sometimes without even fully knowing how much.
If we embrace the Covenant:
We can’t be the “chosen” special ones because the facts don’t support it.
We can’t be comforted by the idea that when death comes we will go on past it, because the facts don’t support that either.
We can’t be comforted by the idea that even if the world seems unjust and unfair, some force or entity will make everything all right sooner or later – because the facts don’t support it.
And finally, we can’t take comfort in enshrouding ourselves in blind tradition and convention, because much of what has dogged our heels from our primitive past is flawed, and must either be modified or replaced.
These are the four reasons why, I think, this idea has yet to catch fire. It doesn’t gives us what we wanted – unless what we want is what we need.
Now what we need is more than a single true principle. Embracing the Covenant is fine, but how do we go from a single core principle like that to something rich enough, diverse enough, and functional enough to attend to all our spiritual needs? That’s a very good question, and one that I intend to keep asking and hopefully answering as this site keeps stumbling forward.